The short term is no solution

13th November 2021

Over 100,000 gathered in Glasgow to protest against climate change

The famous revolutionary and Marxist philosopher, Vladimir Lenin, in 1913 characterised a revolutionary situation as one in which the lower classes do not want to live in the old way and the ruling class are unable to rule in the old way.  There has been little Leninist analysis applied to COP26 but Lenin’s thinking, while not immediately applicable to the present circumstances, certainly indicates the direction of travel.

There are certainly a significant number of the poorer and developing nations of the world who do not want to live according to the international economic order as it is currently constituted.  The climate crisis for many presents a literal existential threat, as rising sea levels threaten the very existence of their nations.  For others, already impoverished by imperialist plunder of their natural resources over centuries, including enslavement of their people, the hollow rhetoric of the rich nations continues to sound like an exchange of glass beads for gold.

In the current situation, for many of these nations, the climate emergency adds to a triple hit they are already having to deal with.  On top of their historical impoverishment there is the added inequity in vaccine distribution to tackle the Covid 19 pandemic, as the West continues to hang onto and hoard supplies.  For many developing nations Western intervention, either economically or militarily, has resulted in the migrant crisis, which drains many of their resources.  The climate crisis adds another layer to these struggles to survive.

COP26 appears to have done little to move forward the commitments of the rich nations of the Global North to take the climate emergency as seriously as they should.  Their default position remains one of giving as little ground as they can, while appearing to give concessions to the nations of the developing world and Global South.

This tactic becomes more transparent as the crisis deepens and the impact is felt in the richer nations too.  Recent floods in Germany, forest fires in the United States and the loss of coral reef in Australia have seen sections of the population waking up to the fact that real action, real commitment and real change is necessary if the impact of climate changed is to be addressed and reversed.

The demand to ‘keep 1.5C alive’ has gained increasing resonance as the COP26 process has unfolded but commitments so far, if they are actually delivered upon, amount to global warming reaching at least up to 2.0C above pre industrial levels.  Some models predict this may be higher still, which would not only be catastrophic, but potentially irreversible.

Capitalism as an economic system, especially in its imperialist globalised phase, is predicated upon competition and gambling.  The bankers gambling debts were the source of the 2008 financial crisis, debts we have all had to pay back over ten years of austerity.  Capitalist corporations routinely hedge their investments, buying commodities into the future to protect themselves against price fluctuations in the market.  Gaining a competitive edge is the driving force of capitalist philosophy and that edge has been gained, over the past 150 years, through the development and more efficient deployment of fossil fuels to drive economic growth.

Recognition that this phase of human development and exploitation of the Earth’s resources has gone is dawning slowly.  Unfortunately, it is dawning too slowly for those who predominantly control such resources, even where they are prepared to admit it. Like the Covid 19 vaccination deniers of the world, there remain those wedded to the reactionary notion that climate change is all part of a wider conspiracy, which will get sorted without human intervention.

Such ivory tower thinking may be the preserve of a hard core but it is often an influential hard core.  However, the next decade will undoubtedly see the glass fronts of such ivory towers breeched as the real life experience of those at the sharp end of the climate emergency draws more people into the struggle for change.

COP26 was never going to come up with all of the answers in one go.  It was always optimistic to expect a seismic shift in thinking on the part of those in entrenched positions of power.  However, the conference and the waves of protest which have surrounded it have ensured that world leaders cannot keep their heads forever in the sand when it comes to the climate emergency.

The ruling classes are beginning to struggle to rule in the old way and the lower classes are increasingly expressing their dissatisfaction at having to live in the old way.  A revolutionary situation may not be quite at hand but the makings of one are there.  However, Lenin was astute enough to also observe that not every revolutionary situation leads to a revolution. 

Capitalism is ruthless in defence of ruling class interests and, as history shows, will stop at nothing to defend its privileges.  Co-ordination, clarity of purpose and unified leadership are all pre-requisites of transforming a revolutionary situation into actual revolutionary change.  The challenge for those intent on not only saving the planet, but transforming it into one in which resources are equitably distributed for people not profit, is to forge that unity and force change.  

Protest at climate change, raising awareness of the climate emergency, is a vital first step towards drawing many into struggle.  It must be allied however to an understanding that the problems of the climate emergency are rooted in capitalism itself.  Until the means of production are in the hands of those who produce the wealth and society is planned according to the needs of its people, on a socialist basis, there will only be short term solutions on offer.

In an emergency situation short term solutions are never going to be good enough.

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